Vice President Joseph Biden will be the speaker at this year’s Class Day on Sunday, May 17.
In an email to the senior class on Tuesday evening, Class Day co-chairs Jeremy Hutton ’15 and Akinyi Ochieng ’15 announced that Biden will be the keynote speaker at Class Day this year. Biden, the 47th and current vice president of the United States, has been in office alongside President Barack Obama since 2009. Before being elected vice president, Biden represented Delaware in the U.S. Senate for 36 years. Recently, Biden’s name has been circulated throughout a number of media outlets as a potential contender for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination.
Hutton and Ochieng said they could not be more thrilled to bring Biden to campus for the event.
“We chose Vice President Biden because of his resiliency, compassion and humor,” Ochieng said. “Despite having faced tragedy during his life and dealing with difficult questions in the political arena, Vice President Biden continually approaches life with good humor and grace. These are qualities that we need as we enter the post-graduate world.”
Hutton and Ochieng said the University was incredibly supportive throughout the process of scheduling Biden to speak at Yale, adding that they wrote their own request to the Vice President’s Office before receiving help from friends and administrators alike.
The co-chairs also worked extensively with Jonathan Edwards College Master and Special Assistant to the Yale President Penelope Laurans. Over time, Laurans said, Class Day has hosted many distinguished people. The chosen speaker is always someone who the Class Day chairs believe will excite their classmates, as well as have interesting things to say to Yalies on “the brink of their futures,” she added.
“It is an honor to have the vice president speak and to address what has become a very international audience, with people from all around the world,” Laurans said. “His presence will bring a special buzz of excitement to an already exciting and nostalgic occasion.”
Laurans added that Hutton and Ochieng did a fantastic job in the selection of the speaker, exhibiting hard work and patience in bringing Biden to New Haven.
Biden is the first Roman Catholic and Delaware native to serve as vice president of the United States. During his time in office, Biden has played a key role in various Obama administration policy decisions, overseeing infrastructure spending from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act during the Great Recession, and negotiating bipartisan agreements with Republicans to address the taxation deadlock of 2010, the debt ceiling crisis of 2011 and the fiscal cliff of 2012.
More recently, Biden has dedicated his time to addressing gun violence after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, serving as head of the Gun Violence Task Force. In 2013, Biden’s 1994 Violence Against Women Act, which provides funding towards the investigation of violent crimes against women, was reauthorized. The reauthorization extended the act’s protections to gays, lesbians and transgender individuals, and led to the creation of the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault and the White House Council on Women and Girls.
Though the Class Day speaker is oftentimes a Yale alumnus — such as last year’s speaker, Secretary of State John Kerry ’66, or 2013 speaker Sen. Cory Booker LAW ’97 — Ochieng said this is not always the case.
“The speaker is chosen based on who we think will resonate with the class,” Ochieng said. “We’ve had many speakers who have been alums as well as many who are alumni of other institutions.”
Biden graduated from the University of Delaware in 1965 and Syracuse Law School in 1968. He entered politics just one year later, before becoming a senator in 1972. At age 29, he became one of the youngest people ever elected to the Senate.
Students interviewed said they are extremely excited that Biden is coming to New Haven.
Devika Mittal ’15 said the co-chairs did an excellent job selecting Biden as the Class Day speaker, since his speech will be enjoyed by students, and by their parents and family members as well.
“I am thrilled to hear that Vice President Biden will be our Class Day speaker,” Nicole De Santis ’15 said. “He has an impressive background and will no doubt give an inspirational speech shaped by his time in office.”
Because Yale students are typically quite liberal, Caroline Andersson ’15 said, choosing a prominent Democrat as the Class Day speaker was a smart choice. She added that she is excited to hear what Biden has to say to the graduating class.
Kimberly Fabian ’15, a student from Delaware, said Biden is one of her “biggest celebrities,” and that she cannot wait to hear him speak at Class Day.
“Vice President Biden has also served his country with tremendous dignity and strength, and has been a true leader on a number of difficult and important problems throughout his life,” Hutton said. “Whether on foreign policy, economic issues or social progress, Vice President Biden has time and again proved his commitment to justice and providing a voice for the voiceless.”
This will be the University’s 314th Commencement.